(Agnès Varda, 1965)
Earlier in this thread, I linked to this randomly chosen post-Impressionist painting
in reference to Le bonheur
. skjerva replied, "how on earth does it remind you of Seurat?" Looking at the screenshot above, my eight-years-late response is, "How on earth does this not
remind you of Seurat!?"
The opening sequence of Le bonheur
most certainly seems painterly to me. Most of the extras along that river even seem to be holding their fishing poles as still as possible, posing for the artist. Varda uses these shots, and the colors therein, to paint an idyll — one which she'll spend the rest of the film interrogating.
But I've gotten ahead of myself.
We fade in from red. It's Varda's first full-color feature, and the conscious use of that color is immediately at the forefront.
The single sunflower, central and bold, sways in the wind, like an eye watching us.
Another perspective on that same flower, off-center now, symmetry traded in for a more gently balanced composition.
A return to the initial perspective, with the edits in time to the jauntiness of the Mozart soundtrack.
And now back to the other shot for the main title, written in the color of the sunflower such that the happiness adds to the harmony of the shot.
Back to the central flower, as Mozart's music becomes a little more aggressive.
One last return to this shot for Varda's title card.
And now quickly back to this watchful eye for less than a full second, the editing becoming off-kilter and eating away at the natural beauty. If the film's title didn't already seem laced with irony, the margin for doubt is narrowing.
A new shot, with flowers in the foreground and a family, out of focus in the background. For the remainder of the credits, the film alternates between this shot (on which the titles appear) and asynchronous interruptions by the previous shot. The effect becomes more and more jarring, and eventually the single, solitary flower — beautiful at first in isolation — seems almost threatening and in violent juxtaposition to the family moving towards the camera arm-in-arm along the golden field.
We fade now with green, a rather jarring reminded of the importance of color and—
—a transition into the lush flora of the idyllic setting.
Thérèse's sunflower dress acts as a playful call back to the opening credits but has thematic import as well, linking her to the more harmonious of the opening shots. She's one flower among many, working together as a bouquet.
Thérèse and François lying together under a tree — a vision of happiness that's almost laughably clichéd.
It's not enough for Thérèse to be wearing a dress of flowers and lying in a sea of them; she also has to gather them up to take home — to carry the sense of this romantic idyll with her wherever she goes.
The family drives out of the woods, and the film jumps cuts—
—back to civilization. Another of Le bonheur
many dichotomies. But there are remnants of the natural here as well—
—in the form of gardens—
—and in art. Here's a scene from Jean Renoir's Picnic on the Grass
playing on the television, playfully calling back to the earlier shot of Thérèse and François and underscoring its clichéd nature.Her:
Sir, don't you want to tell me something?Him:
Anything, so long as you talk. You talk so well.Him:
Where were we?Her:
Yesterday, you were talking about the revolution of the species.Him:
She laughs, embarrassed at her mistake.Him:
What is the origin of organized life? That is the question, as Hamlet would say.
That might qualify as very on-the-nose thematic foreshadowing.
One last shot from this scene, as the kids' aunt refuses to accept the bouquet of flowers from Thérèse. The key line here: "Keep them. My garden is full."
Here's another great sequence of shots, as Varda follows up a fade from blue with a delightful amount of blue mise en scène:
The fade from blue.
At first our eyes tell us that the blueness of the background wall is probably just a coincidence.
The blue of François' shirt makes coincidence less likely, and we start to smile.
The fact that the walls are being freshly painted blue seals the visual joke.
And the camera cuts to a another street view, just in time to catch the blue of the passing truck; a perfect punchline.
And it's as if the path of blue was all leading him here, to her.
From the flame (of new passion?)—
—we fade to red.
And we fade back in to more flames, and red clothes.
And more red clothes.
And more red clothes.
And a red sky.
And a red building.
And François' red car— wait, that's not right!
Luckily, a red truck passes by in the foreground to save the day.
More soon, in the Top 100 Club thread. edit: Here!Grade:
Up next: Edgar Morin & Jean Rouch's Chronicle of a Summer